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No Cheap Thrills Here: Complex, Character-Driven Thrillers

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image from AshtonPal’s flickr

As many of my posts here at The Hub illustrate, I am a longtime fan of genre fiction.  My teenage reading habits primarily focused on several kinds of genre fiction including historical fiction, fantasy, and mysteries & thrillers.  I have a particular fondness for that final category as it is also one of my father’s favorite genres and we continue to trade off book recommendations to this day.  Accordingly, I’m always on the look out for new titles to read and to recommend to my equally suspense-addicted students.

As I expressed in my post about the particular appeal of Veronica Mars last spring, I especially enjoy genre fiction that takes advantage of its particular structure and characteristics to tackle larger topics and issues and tell complex stories in a fresh way. So I’ve been thrilled to see an especially rich crop of recent young adult novels that capitalize on specific qualities of the thriller subgenre to tell stories about the complicated intersections between gender, class, race, sexual orientation, mental health,  sexuality, violence, innocence, guilt, and justice.  These novels take advantage of careful pacing to build suspense and hook readers from their opening lines.  Each features narrators hiding secrets from other characters, from the reader, and from themselves.  These novels will not only keep you on the edge of your seat; they will also leave your mind spinning and buzzing for days afterwards.

FarFromYouFar From You – Tess Sharpe

Sophie is a survivor.  She survived a nasty car accident when she was fourteen and the brutal prescription drug addiction that followed.  Then when Sophie and her best friend Mina were attacked by a masked man in the woods, Sophie survived–and Mina didn’t.  To make everything worse, everyone believes that it’s Sophie’s fault that Mina is dead; the police decided that the attack was a drug deal gone wrong and accordingly all fingers pointed towards Sophie.  So even though she’d been clean for months before the murder, Sophie was shipped off to rehab and told be glad it wasn’t juvie.  But now Sophie’s back and she determined to find out the truth behind Mina’s murder.

complicitComplicit – Stephanie Kuehn

It’s been two years since Jamie saw his magnetic and frightening sister Cate and that’s precisely the way he’d like the situation to remain.  But then his parents tell him that Cate has been released from jail where she’s been serving time for her role in a local barn fire that killed several horses and left another girl severely burned.  Now it seems that Cate wants to see him and Jamie is beyond freaked out.  Even after years of therapy, Jamie hasn’t been able to shake his strange bouts of amnesia and the occasional & unpredictable loss of sensation in his hands and the specter of Cate’s return only exacerbates his symptoms.  Determined to gain some control, Jamie begins to dig deep into his past and his memories with possibly devastating consequences.

PointePointe – Brandy Colbert

Theo is finally starting to get her life in order again.  Her ballet instructor has singled her out as one of her top students and told her to seriously consider auditioning for specialized summer programs. It’s looking like her dreams of becoming one of the few African American professional ballet dancers might be in reach.    She’s eating again, she’s got some great friends, and she might be on the verge of something special with an almost appropriate guy.  Then Donovan Pratt returns.  Before he disappeared a few years ago, Donovan was Theo’s best friend.  And now Theo has all sorts of long buried memories bubbling up–including memories of her first boyfriend, a much older guy who disappeared around the same time as Donovan.

walls around usThe Walls Around Us – Nova Ren Suma

Amber and Violet live in separate universes. As a longtime inmate at Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center, Amber understands its rules and the subtle social dynamics.  She treasures the brief moments of freedom in their strictly controlled lives–like the night when all the doors opened.  Meanwhile, Violet thrives on the very different but equally rigid routine of intense ballet training.  She’s counting the days until she can be free of the ugly events of a few years ago and make her escape to Juilliard.  But while their lives seem worlds apart, Amber and Violet’s stories are inexorably intertwined by twisty web of secrets, broken friendships, murder, guilt, and innocence–all centered on Ori, Violet’s best friend and Amber’s cellmate at Aurora Hills.  As she has with her earlier novels, Nova Ren Suma infuses this fascinating narrative with carefully orchestrated elements of magical realism.

Happily, this trend doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.  Lauren Oliver’s newest novel, Vanishing Girlsexplores a complicated relationship between estranged sisters through the lens of a page-turning mystery.  Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (May 2015) uses the high stakes competition and personal drama of an intense New York City ballet school as the setting for an adrenaline-fueled exploration of three different girls’ quests for dancing stardom. In June, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller and Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn both burst onto the scene and promise to bring mind-bending thrills and thought-provoking chills along with them.

-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella and The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

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I am a librarian at an independent girls' school in the DC-Metro area. I am a compulsive baker, book addict, and genre fiction fan with passion for social justice. Find me on Twitter as @onesmartcupcake.